by Risa Nye
The Alchemy Bottle Shop on Grand Avenue is a welcome addition to the neighborhood for those who appreciate a bounty of bottled spirits. Owners Tova Herman and Peter Mustacich have transformed what used to be a nondescript storefront into a sparkling oasis. The shelves are neatly stocked with bitters, liqueur, vodka, gin, rum, brandy, tequila and mezcal—with one section devoted to “Whisk(e)y.”
Whenever possible, the owners say, they support locally made or distilled products, which include a homemade tonic water kit from the nearby Oaktown Spice Shop. You’ll see a number of local distilleries represented on Alchemy’s shelves, indicated by a red “x” marked approximately in the Bay Area, on a tiny map attached to each locally produced item. Small Hand Foods, Shrub & Co., St. George Spirits, and Bummer & Lazarus are part of the local lineup.
If you’re looking for the ingredients to make the kind of cocktails currently in vogue—which harken back to pre-Prohibition days— you’ll find them here. The simple yet finely crafted elements at Alchemy meet the needs of the throwback bartender: the basics are sweet, sour, and bitter. You’ll be inspired to experiment with shrubs (fruit syrup with vinegar), gum syrup, orgeat (almond-flavored sweet syrup), and a variety of intriguing bitters to use in your “return to the classics” cocktails. Sazeracs, anyone?
Tova and Peter live nearby, and were excited about the great drinks programs they discovered in the area. They say they had their eye on the Grand Avenue storefront, admiring the location during walks around the neighborhood. Owning and operating a bottle shop wasn’t a lifelong dream, Tova says. But with a background as a wine buyer, she had the experience to know she was ready to start buying things she “really wanted to buy,” like small batch spirits and liqueurs. People frequently come into the shop looking for whiskey, she says, and while “we like whiskey, we also like liqueurs— they add so much to a cocktail.”
The couple had a clear vision of what they wanted the shop to be, which was a far cry from a typical corner store. And it would not be the place to go to stock up on beer or wine, although the shop does carry some of each. They acknowledge the existence of “a lot of really good wine stores around here,” and wanted to go in a different direction. After a lengthy interior redesign process, the shop and gallery opened less than two months ago, on April 5th. The upstairs gallery will be available for private events, as well as tastings and classes. Ash Garcia, a local artist who trained at Mills College, will be featured in the gallery beginning May 10th, and will curate all future exhibits.
With the help of family members, Tova and Peter created an environment as carefully crafted as the contents of the distinctive bottles lining the shelves. The fine architectural details, the hand-stenciled wallpaper, and the beautifully displayed spirits combine to create a particular ambience, with a nod to a more genteel era—and to the revival of the pre-Prohibition cocktail.
3256 Grand Avenue, Oakland
Open Wednesday through Sunday
Risa Nye lives in Oakland. Her articles and essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Monthly, Hippocampus magazine, and several anthologies. She writes about cocktails as Ms. Barstool for Nosh at berkeleyside.com and about other things at risanye.com.